Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.– Albert Einstein
8:27pm. Thursday, 22nd April 2021.
The evening turned out to be one of the lowest moments in Nigeria’s democratic history. Cold and rage still run down the spines and marrows of Nigerians in their millions who hold faith to a motherland emerging from fiery storms that continue to hit it daily.
It’s almost two weeks since millions of citizens have been calling on the Buhari administration to sack Communications and Digital Economy Minister, Ali Isa Pantami, in the event that he refuses to resign. The development comes after days of intense criticism by Nigerians, of the Minister following revelations of extreme opinions he expressed in the past, especially those in support of deadly terrorist groups, Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Boko Haram.
Although the Minister had owned up to the accusation and claimed a change in orientation, calls for his sack didn’t abate while many yearned earnestly to hear the President’s reaction to the entire saga.
The President would speak last Thursday, through his aide but in the most saddening, distasteful and disdainful manner yet (at least since 2015), as he shattered the hearts of Nigerians in a Twitter thread of 12 unfortunate jaw-dropping tweets. The significance of ‘twelfth’ in the one of the most prominent betrayal stories come to mind.
As with previous statements that President Buhari and his handlers were pressured to issue (think #EndSARS aftermath), Nigerians were left sore by the leader of their country in what would have been a great moment to demonstrate accountability and respect for the people’s will.
It is noteworthy that thousands of Nigerians strongly expressed the opinion (and continue to) that the President was unlikely to sack him given his antecedents with similar cases. President Buhari’s reaction to the then viral video of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, stuffing dollars in his babariga, as kickback from a contractor is also still fresh on the minds of many.
Among the list of vicious wrongs associated with the reaction, the tacit support for terrorism has to be ranked as ‘most daring.’ Who would imagine a day in Nigeria post-1999, that a President elected on the heels of a terrorism crisis would rise before his people to proclaim extremism as youthful exuberance?
This insidious phenomenon seeks to cancel the careers of others on the basis of a thing they have said, regardless of when they said it.
According to Wikipedia, Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram is currently 48 years old and was only 29 when he took over from his predecessor, Mohammed Yusuf, in 2002. He’s gone on to become one of the most dreaded sect leader alive today. Incidentally, he was around same age as the embattled Minister, at the time he made some of those extreme remarks including that hailing Osama Bin Laden as a better Muslim than himself.
Should Shekau ‘repent’ of his sins tomorrow and ‘apologise’ for his past errors, the Buhari government would appoint him as the Defence Minister? Worse still, what truly connotes repentance from an ideology that he is accused of gravely pursuing to the point that his sermon would incite students of his faith to kill a student who led one of the Christian Fellowships (ECWA) at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi. The institution he was Chief Imam of its Central Mosque.
Couldn’t we have also forgiven the most notorious Lawrence Nomanyagbon Anini, who was just 29, in 1987, when he was publicly executed for armed robbery? What about 22-year-old singer, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, ‘found guilty of committing blasphemy‘ for a song. Can we also talk about the former Chief Justice of the Federation, Walter Onnoghen, removed by a controversial ex-parte order issued by the Code of Conduct Tribunal despite the statement that he “forgot to update his asset declaration, after the expiration of his 2005 declaration?” Wasn’t he old enough to forget?
Inconsistency on the part of this administration was indeed another heartbreaker suffered Thursday, as the media aide watered down a justifiable call for Pantami’s resignation as a “cancel campaign” instigated by those who seek his removal. If we were to concede that it is indeed so, wouldn’t this fall in same bracket as that of Kemi Adeosun, accused of certificate forgery, yet resigned?
But he will not repeat them – for he has publicly and permanently condemned his earlier utterances as wrong. In the 2000s, the Minister was a man in his twenties; next year he will be 50. Time has passed, and people and their opinions – often rightly – change.
The Buhari-led administration and to a large extent, state governments in the country consistently engage in gaslighting, but blatantly reducing the age of a public official accused of bigotry to make a point is most unfortunate. What about the other allegations levelled against him. Don’t they matter to at least, be investigated?
Every well-meaning Nigerian must be worried enough to ask the President Buhari if Pantami is the only citizen that would ever be so qualified to do whatever noble intention (as painted by the President’s aide) it wants to carry out. To the point that he can’t be let go. Or could it really be part of the alleged grand plot to make the country a one-state religion?
The genesis of Pantami’s travails started with a controversial report about his being on an alleged U.S. Terror Watchlist. The newspaper retracted and it remains difficult to ascertain the veracity of same. Rather troubling at this time however, is the level of de-marketing this unfortunate saga and adamance to do the needful would be causing the country. This is especially for Nigerians in the Diaspora or those who intend to relocate or travel out of the country for vacation.
On the domestic scene, for a democratically elected government to consistently discountenance public opinion and thrash it to a dumpsite like the Nigerian government does, is one big blow to democracy. And though, the events of Thursday, may have been put away by the growing number of pessimists in the country, the country would certainly never remain the same.
There would never be another like President Muhammadu Buhari. The passionate leader who cried and begged to be elected for 12 straight years, to do nothing but abandon the ship of state to scavengers because of primordial sentiments.
Nearly a dozen key features of democracy have been trounced by this government since it was inaugurated in 2015; from credible elections to respect for the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a free press, civil liberties including the right to protest, freedom of association and upholding inclusion.
Beyond emboldening the many terror groups and merchants of violence all over Mother Nigeria, by this action of Thursday, it is indeed harder to be called a Nigerian today, than it was yesterday.
READ ALSO: #PantamiResign: MURIC’s defence of the Minister and the implications
With this entire saga getting down to the wire, the ball now rests in the Minister’s court, and if he has truly met with Amazing Grace like he and the Presidency claimed, he would at this time ponder deeply on the words of Indian Statesman, Mahatma Gandhi:
There is a higher court than courts of justice. It’s the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.
May Democracy in Nigeria be revived from this state of comatose.
Temidayo Taiwo-Sidiq is a Journalist, Political Analyst and Satirist with major interest in Nigerian Politics, Governance and Sports.